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Increasingly the perceived benefits of information stored in a digital format are being exploited. The sophistication and ease of supporting web browsers, the creation of internet search engines and the advancing computer skills of students' mean, educational institutions at all levels are using the Internet and Intranets to supplement classroom instruction, to give learners the ability to connect to information (instructional and other resources) and to deliver learning experiences. This paper will focus on the concepts and procedures used in the development of an online learning environment perceptual measure, the Online Learning Environment Survey (OLLES). It is envisaged this instrument will inform educationalists of the effectiveness of tactics and strategies they are employing in e-environments.
However, the range of definitions of 'online learning' is not only a reflection of technological advances, it is also a reflection of the variety of ways educationalists, at all levels, use connected computers in learning. For example, in one situation a group of 14 year old students, following a pre-prepared unit in a supervised computer laboratory, may use the information storage capacity of the WWW to gather additional resources in preparing a presentation on the Antarctica. A second group of 16 year olds, studying the same topic in a classroom with a dedicated computer work station situated by the teacher's desk, could use the communicative functions of the Internet to establish mail lists with Antarctic staff to follow studies being undertaken on weather patterns. A third group of 12 year olds, consisting of small pockets of learners in isolated locations using home based connected workstations, may use an educational courseware package, incorporating information storage and communicative functions, to participate in a complete distance unit studying animal life in the Antarctic. Each of the groups described have used connected computers in different ways to achieve different objectives. The technical competencies required, the learning support needed and the physical location of the students in each case appears to be different and distinct. Initially it appears to be impossible to investigate each scenario using a common instrument, there does not appear to be any 'commonality'. On closer examination we find this is not the case.
|Computer Competence||Extent to which the student feels comfortable and enjoys using computers in the online environment.||I have no problems using a range of computer technologies.|
|Material Environment||Extent to which the computer hardware and software are adequate and user friendly.||The instructions provided to use the tools within the site are clear and precise.|
|Student Collaboration||Extent to which students work together, know, help, support and are friendly to each other.||I communicate regularly with other students in this course.|
|Tutor Support||The extent to which the tutor guides students in their learning and provides sensitive, ongoing and encouraging support.||The feedback I receive from my tutor helps me identify the things I do not understand.|
|Active Learning||The extent to which the computer activities support students in their learning and provide ongoing and relevant feedback.||The feedback I receive from activities / quizzes is meaningful.|
|Order and Organisation||Extent to which class activities are well organised and assist student comprehension.||The learning objectives are clearly stated for each topic.|
|Information Design and Appeal||Extent to which class materials are clear, stimulating and visually pleasing to the student.||The material presented is visually appealing.|
|Reflective Thinking||Extent to which reflective activities are encouraged and how students enjoyed learning and participating in this environment.||I am satisfied with my experience of using the Internet and learning online.|
|Order and Organisation||9||0.90|
|Information Design and Appeal||7||0.89|
The alpha for the scales, Order and Organisation and Active Learning (both above 0.9) could be considered to be excellent. The alpha for the scales Information Design and Appeal, Reflective Thinking, Tutor Support, Student Collaboration and Computer Competence (all above 0.8) could be considered to be good. The remaining scale, Material Environment (alpha above 0.7) could be considered acceptable. While high internal reliability does not necessarily mean there is an assurance of high quality, the results obtained are encouraging for further development. Further analysis of the scales and items will be undertaken and the refined version of the instrument will distributed to a wider audience.
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|Author: John Clayton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org (Hamilton, New Zealand)
Please cite as: Clayton, J. (2004). Investigating online learning environments. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 197-200). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/clayton.html
© 2004 John Clayton
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